Rupert Brooke and the
London : Sidgwick & Jackson, Limited
3 Adam Street, Adelphi, W.C. 1919
The following paper was read before Rttgby
School on the evening of 2jth March 1919.
A few alterations and omissions have been made
in preparing it for /,! e press
Printed fn Great Britain
ly Twntutl &* Spears, Edinburgh
Rupert Brooke and the
ONE evening in 1766, Dr Johnson being then in the
fifty-seventh year of his age, his friends, Boswell
and Goldsmith, called on him at his lodgings in
Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, with the intention
of persuading him to sup with them at the Mitre.
But though he was proof against their cajoleries,
he was by no means averse from a talk. With
true hospitality, since he had himself, we are told,
become a water-drinker, he called for a bottle
of port. This his guests proceeded to discuss.
While they sipped, the three of them con-
versed on subjects no less beguiling than play-
going and poetry.
Goldsmith ventured to refer to the deplorable
fact that his old friend and former schoolfellow
had given up the writing of verses. " Why, sir,"
replied Johnson, " our tastes greatly alter. The
lad does not care for the child's rattle. ... As
we advance in the journey of life, we drop
some of the things which have pleased us ;
whether it be that we are fatigued and don't
4 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
choose to carry so many things any farther, or
that we find other things which we like better."
Boswell persisted. " But, sir," said he, " why
don't you give us something in some other way."
" No, sir," Johnson replied, " I am not obliged
to do any more. No man is obliged to do as
much as he can do. A man is to have part of
his life to himself." " But I wonder, sir," Boswell
continued, " you have not more pleasure in writ-
ing than in not writing." Whereupon descended
the crushing retort, " Sir, you may wonder."
Johnson then proceeded to discuss the actual
making of verses. "The great difficulty," he
observed — alas, how truly, "is to know when
you have made good ones." Once, he boasted,
he had written as many as a full hundred lines a
day ; but he was then under forty, and had been
inspired by no less fertile a theme than "The
Vanity of Human Wishes," a poem that, with
other prudent counsel, bids the " young en-
thusiast " pause ere he choose literature and
learning as a spiral staircase to fame : —
Deign on the passing world to turn thine eyes
And pause awhile from Letters, to be wise . . .
None the less, Johnson made haste to assure
Goldsmith that his Muse even at this late day
was not wholly mum : — " I am not quite idle ; I
made one line t'other day ; but I made no more!"
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 5
" Let us hear it," cried Goldsmith, " we'll put a
bad one to it ! " " No, sir, I have forgot it."
And so sally succeeded sally.
How much of the virtue of Johnson's talk we
are to attribute to Boswell's genius for selection
and condensation, and how much to the habitu-
ality of his idol's supreme judgment, penetration,
humanity and good sense, is one of the delectable
problems of literature. This fact, at any rate,
is unquestionable ; namely, that Johnson seldom
indeed let fall a remark, even though merely in
passing, which is not worth a sensible man's con-
sideration. He knew — rare felicity — what he was
talking about. He spoke — rare presence of mind
— not without, but after, aforethought. However
dogmatic, overbearing and partisan he might be,
not only in what he is recorded to have said is
there always something substantive and four-
square, but frequently even a light and occasional
utterance of his will stand like a signpost at the
cross-roads positively imploring the traveller to
make further exploration.
" The lad does not care for the child's rattle."
Here, surely, is one of those signposts, one
more enticing invitation to explore. By rattle,
obviously, Johnson meant not only things
childish, but things childlike. For such things
the ' lad ' does not merely cease to care. He
6 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
substitutes for them other things which he likes
better. Not that every vestige of charm and
sentiment necessarily deserts the rattle, but other
delights intrude ; and, what is still more im-
portant, other faculties that will take pleasure in
these new toys and interests comd into energy and
play. Does not this rightly imply that between
childhood and boyhood is fixed a perceptible gulf,
physical, spiritual, psychological, and that in
minds in which the powers and tendencies con-
spicuous in boyhood, and more or less dormant
or latent in earlier years, predominate, those of
childhood are apt to fade and fall away ?
This is true, I think, of us all, whatever our
gifts and graces ; but in a certain direction I
believe it is true in a peculiar degree of poets —
of children and lads (and possibly lasses, though
they, fortunately for me, lie outside my im-
mediate inquiry) who are destined, or doomed,
to become poets. Poets, that is, may be divided,
for illustration and convenience, into two distinct
classes : those who in their idiosyncrasies
resemble children and bring to ripeness the
faculties peculiar to childhood ; and those who
resemble lads. On the one hand is the poet who
carries with him through life, in varying vigour
and variety, the salient characteristics of child-
hood (though modified, of course, by subsequent
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 7
activities and experience). On the other is the
jjoet who carries with him the salient character-
istics of boyhood (though modified by the ex-
-periences and activities of his childhood). This
is little more than a theory, but it may be worth
a passing scrutiny.
What are the salient characteristics of child-
hood ? Children, it will be agreed, live in a
world peculiarly their own, so much so that it
is doubtful if the adult can do more than very
fleetingly reoccupy that far-away consciousness.
There is, however, no doubt that the world of
the grown-up is to children an inexhaustible
astonishment and despair. They brood on us.
And perhaps it is well that we are not invited
to their pow-wows, until, at any rate, the hatchet
for the hundredth time is re-buried. Children
are in a sense butterflies, though they toil with
an almost inconceivable assiduity after life's
scanty pollen and nectar, and though, by a curious
inversion of the processes of nature, they may be-
come the half-comatose and purblind chrysalides
which too many of us poor mature creatures so
ruefully resemble. They are not bound in by
their groping senses. Facts to them are the live-"l
liest of chameleons. Between their dream and \
their reality looms no impassable abyss. There
is no solitude more secluded than a child's, 4io
8 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
absorption more complete, no insight more ex-
quisite and, one might even add, more compre-
hensive. As we strive to look back and to
live our past again, can we recall any joy, fear,
hope or disappointment more extreme than those
of our childhood, any love more impulsive and
unquestioning, and, alas, any boredom so un-
mitigated and unutterable ?
We call their faith, even in ourselves, credulity ;
and are grown perhaps so accustomed to life's
mysteries that we pale at their candour. " I am
afraid you cannot understand it, dear," ex-
claimed a long-suffering mother, at the end of her
resources. " O yes, I can very well," was her
little boy's reply, " if only you would not ex-
plain." " Why is there such a lot of things in
the world if no one knows all these things ? "
ran another small mind's inquiry. And yet
another : " Perhaps the world is a fancy, mother.
Shall I wake from this dream ? "
We speak indulgently of childish make-believe,
childish fancy. Bret Harte was nearer the truth
when he maintained that " the dominant ex-
pression of a child is gravity." The cold fact
is that few of us have the energy to be serious at
their pitch. There runs a jingle :
O, whither go all the nights and days ?
And where can to-morrow be ?
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 9
Is anyone there, when I'm not there ?
And why am I always Me ?
With such metaphysical riddles as these —
riddles which no philosopher has yet answered
to anybody's but his own entire satisfaction
— children entertain the waking moments of
their inward reverie. They are contemplatives,
solitaries, fakirs, who sink again and again out
of the noise and fever of existence into a waking
vision. We can approach them only by way of
intuition and remembrance, only by becoming
even as one of them ; I though there are many
books— Sully's "Studies of Childhood," for
instance, Mr Gosse's " Father and Son," John
Ruskin's " Prseterita," Serge Aksakoff's " Years
of Childhood," Henry James's " A Small Boy
and Others " — which will be a really vivid and
quiet help in times of difficulty.
This broken dream, then, this profound self-
communion, this innocent peace and wonder
make up the secret existence of a really child-
like child : while the intellect is only stirring.
Then, suddenly life flings open the door of the
nursery. The child becomes a boy. I do not
mean that the transformation is as instantaneous
as that, though, if I may venture to give a'
personal testimony, I have seen two children
plunge out into the morning for the first time to
10 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
their first boys' -school, and return at evening
transmogrified, so to speak, into that queer,
wild, and (frequently) amiable animal known as
a boy. Gradually the childish self retires like a
shocked snail into its shell. Like a hermit crab it
accumulates defensive and aggressive disguises.
Consciousness from being chiefly subjective
becomes largely objective. The steam-engine
routs Faerie. Actuality breaks in upon dream.
School rounds off the glistening angles. The
individual is swamped awhile by the collective.
Yet the child-mind, the child-imagination per-
sists, and if powerful, never perishes.
But here, as it seems to me, is the dividing line.
It is here that the boyish type of mind and im-
agination, the intellectual analytical type begins
to show itself, and to flourish. The boy — I
merely refer, if I may be forgiven, to Boy, and
far more tentatively to Girl, in the abstract,
though, of course, there is no such entity — the
boy is happy in company. Company sharpens
his wits, awakens his rivalry, deepens his re-
sponsiveness, enlarges his responsibility, " stirs
him up," as we say. Apron-strings, however
dear their contents, were always a little re-
strictive. He borrows a pitiless pair of scissors.
He, unlike the child told of by Blake and Vaughan
and Traherne, had always more or less " under-
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 11
stood this place." He loves " a forward motion "
—the faster the better. When " shades of the
prison-house " begin to close about him, he im-
mediately sets out to explore the jail. His
natural impulse is to discover the thronging,
complicated, busy world, to sail out into the
West, rather than to dream of a remote Orient.
He is a restless, curious, untiring inquirer ; /
though preferably on his own lines rather than
on those dictated to him. He wants to test, to
examine, to experiment.
We must beware of theories and pigeon-holes.
Theory is a bad master, and there is a secret
exit to every convenient pigeon-hole. There are
children desperately matter-of-fact ; there are
boys dreamily matter-of-fancy. But roughly,
these are the two phases of man's early life.
Surroundings and education may mould and
modify, but the inward bent of each one of
us is persistent. Can we not, indeed, divide
" grown-ups " into two distinct categories ;
those in whom the child is most evident, and
those resembling the boy ? " Men are but children
of a larger growth," says Dryden. And Praed
makes fun of the sad fact : " Bearded men to-
day appear just Eton boys grown heavy." The
change is one of size rather than one of quality.
Indeed, in its fight for a place, in its fair play
12 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
and foul, in its rigid conventions, in its contest
for prizes that are" so oddly apt to lose their
value as soon as they are won, how like the school
of life is to any other school ; how strangely
opinions differ regarding its rules, its aims, its
method, its routine and its Headmaster.
And the poets ? They, too, attend both
schools. But what are the faculties and qualities
of mind which produce poetry, or which incline
men towards it ? According to Byron, there are
four elements that we are justified in demanding
of a poet. He found them, not without satisfac-
tion, more conspicuous in Pope than in his con-
temporaries. These elements are sense, learning
(in moderation), passion and invention. Perhaps
because he was less rich in it, he omitted a fifth
element, by no means the least essential. I mean
imagination, the imagination that not merely
invents, but that creates, and pierces to the in-
most spirit and being of life, humanity and nature. •
This poetical imagination also is of two distinct
kinds or types. ^he..on^diyines, the. .other dis-
covers. JThe_one is intuitivejiilductive ; the other
logical, deductive._ The one visionary, the other
intellectual. The one knows that beauty is truth,
the other proves that truth is beauty. And the
poet inherits, as it seems to me, the one kind
from the child in him, the other from the boy in
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 13
him. Not that any one poet's imagination is
purely and solely of either type. The greatest
poets — Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, for instance,
are masters of both. Other poets, Wordsworth,
Keats, Patmore, for instance, may manifest in
varying measure the one impulse and the other.
But the two streams, though their source and
tributaries intermingle, are distinguishable ; and
such poets as Plato, the writer of the Book of
Job, Vaughan, Blake, Coleridge, and Shelley,
may be taken as representative of the one type ;
Lucretius, Donne, Dryden, Byron, Browning,
Meredith, as representative of the other. Is not
life both a dream and an awakening ?
The visionaries, those whose eyes are fixed o
the distance, on the beginning and end, rather
than on the incident and excitement, of life's
journey, have to learn to substantiate their
imaginings, to base their fantastic palaces on
terra firma, to weave their dreams into the fabric
of actuality. But the source and origin of their
poetry is in the world within. The intellectual,
imagination, on the other hand, flourishes onS
knowledge and experience. It must first explore \
before it can analyse, devour before it can (
digest, the world in which it finds itself. Ity
feeds and feeds upon ideas, but because it is
creative, it expresses them in the terms of
14 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
humanity, of the senses and the emotions, makes
life of them, that is. There is less mystery, less
magic in its poetry. It does not demand of its
reader so profound or so complete a surrender.
But if any youthfulness is left in us, we can share
its courage, enthusiasm and energy, its zest and
enterprise, its penetrating thought, its wit,
fervour, passion, and we should not find it
impossible to sympathise with its wild revulsions
of faith and feeling, its creative scepticism.
Without imagination of the one kind or the
other mortal existence is indeed a dreary and
prosaic business. The moment we begin to live
— when we meet the friend of friends, or fall in
love, or think of our children, or make up our
minds, or set to the work we burn to do, or make
something, or vow a vow, or pause suddenly face
to face with beauty — at that moment the im-
agination in us kindles, begins to flame. Then
we actually talk in rhythm. What is genius
but the possession of this supreme inward energy
in a rare and intense degree ? Dlumined by the
imagination, our life — whatever its defeats and
despairs — is a never-ending, unforeseen strange-
ness and adventure and mystery. This is the
fountain of our faith and of our hope.
And so, by what I am afraid has been a tediously
circuitous route, I have come at length to
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 15
Rupert Brooke and to his poetry. His surely
was the intellectual imagination possessed in a
rare degree. Nothing in his work is more con-
spicuous than its preoccupation with actual ex-
perience, its adventurousness, its daring, its keen
curiosity and interest in ideas, its life-giving
youthfulness. Nothing in his work is more con-
spicuous by its absence than reverie, a deep still
broodingness. The children in his poems are
few. They are all seen objectively, from without ;
though a wistful childlike longing for peace and
home and mother dwells in such a poem as
" Retrospect " or "A Memory." I am not sure
that the word ' dream ' occurs in them at all.*
" Don't give away one of the first poets in
England," he says in one of his letters, " but
there is in him still a very, very small portion
that's just a little childish." Surely it was the
boy in him that boasted in that jolly, easy fashion,
the boy in him that was a little shamefaced
to confess to that fault vestige of childishness.
* To my shame and consternation my friend Mr Edward
Marsh has pointed out to me, since this paper was read, that
the word ' dream ' occurs in no less than fifteen of Brooke's
poems. This, I hope, will be one more salutary lesson that
general impressions are none the worse for being put to a
close test. Still, the fact that that peculiar, dreamlike
quality and atmosphere which is so conspicuous in the poetry
of the visionaries is very rarely, if ever, present in that of
Brooke will not, I think, be gainsaid.
16 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
The theme of his poetry is the life of the mind,
the senses, the feelings, life here and now, how-
ever impatient he may be with life's limita-
tions. Its longing is for a state of consciousness
wherein this kind of life shall be possible with-
out exhaustion, disillusionment, or reaction. His
words, too, are not symbols ; they mean pre-
cisely what they say and only what they say.
Whereas the words of the mystics of the child-
like imagination, Blake and Vaughan and
Coleridge, seem chiefly to mean what is left
hinted at, rather than expressed. His world
stands out sharp and distinct, like the towers and
pinnacles of a city under the light and blue of
the sky. Their world, old as Eden and remote as
the stars, lies like the fabric of a vision, bathed
hi an unearthly atmosphere. He desired, loved,
and praised things in themselves for their energy,
vividness and naturalness ; they for some inward
and spiritual significance, for the reality of
which they are the painted veil. They live in
the quietude of their imaginations, in a far-away
listening, and are most happy when at peace, if
not passive. He is all activity, apprehensiveness.
Nothing pleases him so much as doing things,
though, fretted that body and mind so soon weary,
he may pine for sleep. His writing, whether hi
his poems, his " Webster," or in his letters, is itself
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 17
a kind of action ; and he delights far more than
the mystics in things touched, smelt and tasted.
He delights, that is, in things in themselves not
merely for then* beauty or for the unseen reality
they represent. He is restless, enquiring, veers
in the wind like a 'golden weathercock. 'He is
impatient of a vague idealism, as wary as a fox
of the faintest sniff of sentimentality. To avoid
them (not always quite successfully,) he flies to
the opposite extreme, and to escape from what
he calls the rosy mists of poets' experience em-
phasises the unpleasant side of life. His one
desire is to tell each salient moment's truth
about it. Truth at all costs : let beauty take
care of itself. So he came to write and to defend
poems that in Mr Marsh's witty phrase one finds
it disquieting to read at meals. A child, a
visionary, lives in eternity ; a man in tune, a
boy — sheer youthfulness — in the moment. It is
the moments that flower for Brooke. What is
his poem " Dining-room Tea " but the lovely
cage of an instant when in ecstasy time and the
world stood still ?
For truth's sake he has no fear of contradic-
tions. The mood changes, the problem, even
the certainty shows itself under different aspects ;
he will be faithful to each in turn. Obviously
he rather enjoyed shocking the stagnant and
18 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
satisfied, and baiting the thin-blooded philo-
sophers, enjoyed indeed shocking and baiting
himself; but he also delighted, for the pure in-
tellectual exercise, in looking, as we say, all round
a thing. If, unlike Methuselah, he did not live
long enough to see life whole, he at least con-
fronted it with a remarkably steady and dis-
concerting stare. If he was anywhere at ease,
it was in ' ' the 1 ittle nowhere of the brain .' ' Again
and again, for instance, he speculates on the life
that follows death. First (mere chronological
order is not absolutely material) he imagines the
Heaven of the fish :
Fat caterpillars drift around,
And Paradisal grubs are found ;
Unfading moths, immortal flies,
And the worm that never dies.
And in that Heaven of all their wish,
There shall be no more land, say fish.
Next, he laments despairingly in Tahiti, with a
kind of wistful mockery, at the thought of an im-
mortality wherein all is typical and nothing real :
And you'll no longer swing and sway
Divinely down the scented shade,
Where feet to Ambulation fade,
And moons are lost in endless Day.
How shall we wind these wreaths of ours,
Where there are neither heads nor flowers ? .
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 19
Next, he momentarily wafts himself into the
being of a Shade :
So a poor ghost, beside his misty streams,
Is haunted by strange doubts, evasive dreams,
Hints of a pre-Lethean life, of men,
Stars, rocks, and flesh, things unintelligible,
And light on waving grass, he knows not when,
And feet that ran, but where, he cannot tell.
Next, he deprecates the possibility of a future
life even as tenuous and nebulous as this :
Poor straws ! on the dark flood we catch awhile,
Cling, and are borne into the night apart.
The laugh dies with the lips, ' Love ' with the lover.
And, again, he is lost in rapture at the possibility
which he mocked at in the first poem, sighed at
in the second, belittled in the third, and denied
in the fourth :
Not dead, not undesirous yet,
Still sentient, still unsatisfied,
We'll ride the air, and shine, and flit,
Around the places where we died,
And dance as dust before the sun,
And light of foot, and unconfined,
Hurry from road to road, and run
About the errands of the wind.
20 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
And every mote, on earth or air,
Will speed and gleam, down later days,
And like a secret pilgrim fare
By eager and invisible ways,
Nor ever rest, nor ever lie,
Till, beyond thinking, out of view,
One mote of all the dust that's I
Shall meet one atom that was you.
Then in some garden hushed from wind,
Warm in a sunset's afterglow,
The lovers in the flowers will find
A sweet and strange unquiet grow
Upon the peace ; and, past desiring,
So high a beauty in the air,
And such a light, and such a quiring,
And such a radiant ecstasy there,
They'll know not if it's fire, or dew,
Or out of earth, or in the height,
Singing, or flame, or scent, or hue,
Or two that pass, in light, to light,
Out of the garden, higher, higher. . . .
Which of these conflicting solutions, we may
inquire, to one of Life's obscurest problems are we
to accept as his ? Do, or do not, such seductive
speculations as these confirm the view expressed
by Plato in the Republic that the poets
undermine the rational principle in the soul ?
It may be admitted that such poetry as this, in
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 21
the words of Bacon, " makes men witty," and is
unquestionably a " criticism of life " ; but can it
be said to teach — as Wordsworth intended that
his poetry should ? Well, when Mrs Barbauld
had the temerity to charge ." The Rime of the
Ancient Mariner " with two grave faults ; first,
that it was improbable, and next, that it had no
moral ; Coleridge cheerfully pleaded guilty to the
first charge, while, as for the other, " I told her
that ... it had too much — that is, for a work
of pure imagination." Will it satisfy " serious "
inquirers if it be suggested that these poems of
Brooke's are manifestations of the intellectual
imagination ? Probably not. They demand of
a poet a definite and explicit philosophy. They
desire of him a confirmation, if not of their own
faith, then of his. But it cannot be too clearly
recognised that the faith of a poet is expressed in
all that he writes. He cannot, either as a man
or as a poet, live without faith ; and never does.
A few lovely words about lovely things is an
expression of faith : so, too, is all love, all desire
for truth, all happiness. If we have such faith
ourselves, if we search close enough, we shall
find a poet's faith expressed implicitly through-
out his work.
We must, too, be thankful for many and various
mercies, the mercy, for instance (so richly con-
22 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
ferred in Brooke's writing) that here was a man
who never spared mind and spirit in the effort
to do the best work he could, who was that
finest thing any man can be — a true craftsman
delighting in his job. We cannot demand that a
poet shall answer each of our riddles in turn ;
" tidy things up." He shares our doubts and
problems ; exults in them, and at the same time
proves that life in spite of all its duplicity and
deceits and horrors, is full of strangeness, wonder,
mystery, grace and power : is " good." This,
at any rate, is true of Rupert Brooke. And he
knew well enough that the nearer a poet gets to
preaching, the more cautious he should be re-
specting the pulpit and the appurtenances thereof.
As with the life hereafter, so with this life, so
with love. The sentimentalist always shy of the
real, the cynic always hostile to it, cling to some
pleasing dream or ugly nightmare of the real,
knowing them to be illusions. That is precisely
what Brooke, keen, insistent, analytical, refused
to do. He pours out his mind and heart for
instance in the service of love. The instant
that love is dead, he has, to put it crudely, very
little use for its corpse. He refuses point blank
to find happiness in any happy medium, to be a
wanderer, as he said, in " the middle mist."
There are two sides — many more than two, as a
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 23
matter of fact — to every question. " Blue
Evening " or " The Voice " prove his competence
to see both. At times, indeed, with a kind of
boyish waywardness and obstinacy he prefers the VT
other side — the ugliest— of the much-flattered
moon. Helen's young face was beautiful. True.
In age not only must she have lost her now
immortal fairness, but possibly she became
repulsive. Well, then, as a poet, hating
"sugared lies," he said so.
It is indeed characteristic of the intellectual
imagination to insist on ' life's little ironies.'
It destroys in order to rebuild. Every scientist,
who is not a mere accumulator of facts, possesses
it. Acutely sensitive to the imperfections of the
present, its hope is in the future ; whereas the
visionary, certainly no less conscious of flaw and
evil, is happy in his faith in the past, or rather
in the eternal now. The one cries " What shall
I do ? " the other " What must I be ? " The
one, as has been said, would prove that truth is *
beauty ; the other knows that beauty is truth.
After all, to gain the whole world is in one true
sense to save the soul.
In the lugubrious and exciting moment when
Brooke wrote " Kindliness " and " Menelaus and
Helen," it was not his aim or thought to see that
age, no less than youth and beauty is, in his own
24 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
phrase, ' pitiful with mortality.' He resented
ugliness and decay, and associated them with
death and evil. For death, whatever else it
may be, brings destruction of the beauty of the
body ; and evil brings the destruction of the spirit
which is the life and light of the body. They
are the contraries of a true living energy ; and
because his mind seemed to be indestructible,
and his body as quick with vitality as a racehorse,
and love the very lantern of beauty, he not only
feared the activities of death, but was intolerant
of mere tranquillity, even of friendliness, and,
above all, of masking make-believe.
Sometimes, indeed, in his poetry, in his letters,
he is not quite just to himself in the past, or
even in the present, because he seemed to detect
compromise and pretence. " So the poor love
of fool and blind I've proved you, For, fool or
lovely, 'twas a fool that loved you." On the
other hand, listen to these fragments from the
letters in Mr Marsh's vivifying memoir, " I find
myself smiling a dim, gentle, poetic, paternal
Jehovah-like smile — over the ultimate ex-
cellence of humanity." " Dear ! dear ! it's
very trying being so exalted one day, and ever so
desperate the next — this self-knowledge ! . . ."
\ "I know what things are good : friendship and
work and conversation. These I shall have.
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 25
He tells how the day has brought back to him
" that tearing hunger to do and do and do things.
I want to walk 1000 miles, and write 1000 plays,
and sing 1000 poems, and drink 1000 pots of
beer, and kiss 1000 girls, and — oh, a million
things ! . . . The spring makes me almost
ill with excitement. I go round corners
on the roads shivering and nearly crying
with suspense, as one did as a child, fearing
some playmate in waiting to jump out and
frighten one. . . ." " Henceforward," writes
Mr Marsh in another passage, " the only thing
he cared for — or rather he felt he ought to
care for — in a man, was the possession of good-
ness ; its absence the one thing he hated. . . .
It was the spirit, the passion that counted with
His verse tells the same tale. Life to poetry,
poetry to life — that is one of the few virtuous
circles. Life and thought to him were an endless
adventure. His mind, as he says, was restless
as a scrap of paper in the wind. His moods
ebbed and flowed, even while his heart, that
busy heart, as he called it, was deeply at rest.
Wit to such a mind is a kind of safety-valve, or
even the little whistle which the small boy pipes
up for courage' sake in the dark. Letters and
poems flash and tingle with wit — and rare
26 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
indeed are the poems in our language which, like
" Tiare Tahiti," " The Funeral of Youth," and
" The Old Vicarage," are witty and lovely at the
same time :
And in that garden, black and white,
Creep whispers through the grass all night ;
And spectral dance, before the dawn,
A hundred Vicars down the lawn ;
Curates, long dust, will come and go
On lissom, clerical, printless toe ;
And oft between the boughs is seen
The sly shade of a Rural Dean . . .
Till, at a shiver in the skies,
Vanishing with Satanic cries,
The prim ecclesiastic rout
Leaves but a startled sleeper-out,
Grey heavens, the first bird's drowsy calls,
The falling house that never falls . . .
Few poets have mocked and made fun and
made beauty like that, all in one breath, and
certainly not the childlike visionaries, though
one of them knew that even by mere playing
the innocent may go to heaven. And beneath
Brooke's wit was humour — the humour that is
cousin to the imagination, smiling magnanimously
at the world it loves and understands.
Byron, too, was witty, mocking, enjoyed turn-
ing things inside out and wrong side upwards,
picking ideas to pieces, shocking the timid, the
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 27
transcendental, the spinners of cocoons ; but
Brooke, unlike Byron, was never sourly sardonic,
never morbidly cynical. Simply because he was
always testing, analysing, examining, with an
intellect bordering as close on his emotions as his
emotions bordered on his intellect, he was, again,
in Mr Marsh's words, self-conscious, self-examin-
ing, self-critical, but never self-absorbed ; never
an ice-cold egotist, that is, however insistent he
may be on his own individuality. More closely
than Byron he resembles Mercutio :
If love be rough with you, be rough with love ;
Prick love for loving, and you beat love down . . .
If thou art dun, we'll draw thee from the mire
Of this, sir-reverence love, wherein thou stick'st
Up to the ears. Come, we burn daylight, ho ...
I mean, sir, in delay
We waste our lights in vain, like lamps by day.
Take our good meaning, for our judgement sits
Five times in that ere once in our five wits.
And in his metaphysical turns, his wayward-
ness, his contradictoriness, his quick revulsions
of feeling, he reminds us not less — he reminded
even himself (in a moment of exultation) — of the
Though " magic " in the accepted sense is all
but absent from his verse — the magic that
transports the imagination clean into another
28 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
reality, that drenches a word, a phrase, with
the light that was never strangely cast even
on the Spice Islands or Cathay, he has that
other poetic magic that can in a line or two
present a portrait, a philosophy, and fill the
instant with a changeless grace and truth.
That magic shines out in such fragments, for
instance, as :
Beauty was there,
Pale in her black ; dry-eyed ; she stood alone . . .
And turn, and toss your brown delightful head,
Amusedly, among the ancient Dead ;
And less-than-echoes of remembered tears
Hush all the loud confusion of the heart :
There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.
What, again, is it but this magic which stills
the heart, gives light to the imagination, in one
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 29
of the less well-known, but not the least quiet
and tender of his poems, " Doubts " ?
When she sleeps, her soul, I know,
Goes a wanderer on the air,
Wings where I may never go,
Leaves her lying, still and fair,
Waiting, empty, laid aside.
Like a dress upon a chair . . .
This I know, and yet I know
Doubts that will not be denied.
For if the soul be not in place,
What has laid trouble in her face ?
And, sits there nothing ware and wise
Behind the curtain of her eyes,
What is it, in the self s eclipse,
Shadows, soft and passingly,
About the corners of her lips,
The smile that is essential she ?
And if the spirit be not there,
Why is fragrance in the hair ?
Above all, Brooke's poems are charged with, and
surrender the magic of what we call personality.
They seem, as we read them, to bring us into a
happy, instant relationship with him, not only
ghostly eye to eye, but mind to mind. They tell
more than even friendship could discover unaided.
They share his secrets with the world — as if a
30 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
boy had turned out the contents of his astonish-
ing pockets just before going to bed. They share
them, too, in that queer paradoxical fashion
which makes a volume of poems a more secure
refuge even than one's lawyer, one's doctor, or
Many of OUT fellow-creatures — whether we
like or dislike them, approve or disapprove —
always remain a little mysterious and pro-
blematical. Even when they most frankly ex-
press themselves, we are conscious that there is
still something in them that eludes us, a dream
unshared, a reticence unbroken, a fugitive
phantom. Have we, indeed, all of us, to the
last dim corner and attic, cellar and corridor,
explored ourselves ? Because of his very
candour, because, so to speak, of what he looked
like, this was to some extent true of Rupert
Brooke. Age, in time, scrawls our very selves
upon our faces. Fast-locked the door of our
souls may be, but the key hangs in the porch.
But youth and delightful manners may be a
mask concealing gravity and deep feeling. And
what is one's remembrance of that serenely
eager, questing face, stilled, as it were, with the
phantom of a smile that might have lingered in
the countenance of the Sphinx in her younger
days, but that of the very embodiment of youth ?
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 31
We don't often meet people in this world who
instantly recall the Golden Age and remind us
that the Greek sculptors went to Life for their
models. Even Henry James, in his essay on
Brooke, not less in its translucency than five
fathoms deep, seems to pause Prospero-like before
that Ariel whom he had suddenly encountered in
the beautiful setting of the Cambridge " backs."
With the lingering gusto which an epicure
lavishes on a rare old vintage he tastes — tastes
again, and all but hesitates for words to express
his precise and ultimate reaction ; and to suggest
that Henry James was ever at a loss for words
is to insinuate that the Mississippi might run
short of water.
One was just happy in Brooke's company.
Guiltily one eyed his gold. Here in laughing,
talking actuality was a living witness of what
humanity might arrive at when — well, when
we tread the streets of Utopia. Happiness is
catching. No doubt this admiration sometimes
elated him, without his being aware of it. At
times, in certain company, it must have been
a positive vexation. Admiration is a dense
medium though which to press to what treasure
may be beyond. Poets, indeed, unlike children,
and for their own sake if not for that of others,
should be heard and not seen ; and it must have
32 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
been very difficult for this poet to take cover,
to lie low. He came ; you saw ; he conquered.
And after ? Like a good child's birthday cake,
he was as rich as he looked.
" I never met," wrote to his mother one
heaven-sent friend (I mean sent to the outskirts
of heaven), " I never met so entirely likeable
a chap. . . . Your son was not merely a genius ;
what is perhaps more important, he had a charm
that was literally like sunshine." Indeed the
good things simply softly shimmered out of him
— wit, enthusiasm, ideas, raillery, fun, and that
sympathetic imagination concerning everybody
and everything that he himself said was the
artist's one duty. He had, of course, his own
terms — critical, and perhaps at times a little
exacting. If he suffered a fool, no more than with
the rest of his own generation was it with a
guileless gladness. He preferred humanity to
be not too stiff, not too stupid, and not too dry.
Talk he loved ; and when he listened, his mind
was in his eyes, " tree whispering to tree without
wind, quietly." If he hated, if his sensitiveness
wholly recoiled, then that emphatically was the
end of the matter.
He confronted his fellow-creatures just like
the boy he was, ready to face what and who may
come without flinching ; smiling lip and steady
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 33
eye. One was conscious of occasional shynesses
and silences, even a little awkwardness at times
that was in itself a grace. One was still more
conscious of an insatiable interest and specula-
tion. His quiet gaze took you in ; yours couldn't
so easily take him in. These are but my
own remembrances, few, alas, however vivid
and unfading : and even at that they are
merely those of one of the less responsive
In spite of life's little disillusionments (which,
it is prudent to remember, we may cause as
well as endure) ; in spite of passing moods of
blackness and revulsion, nothing could be clearer
in his poems, in his letters, and in himself, than
his zest and happiness. Looking back on his
school -life he said that he had been happier than
he could find words to say. What wonder that
at twenty he describes himself as in the depths
of despondency " because of my age " ? And a
little later : " I am just too old for romance."
What does that mean but that he found life so
full and so arresting that he was afraid he might
not be able to keep pace with it ? It was a need-
less apprehension. The sea was deep beneath
the waves and the foam. If he had lived to
be, let us say, forty, he would have said just
the same thing, though, perhaps, with more
34 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
emphasis and more philosophy. He was never
to experience that passing misfortune. He flung
himself into the world — of men or of books, of
thought and affairs — as a wasp pounces into a
cakeshop, Hotspur into the fighting. When ^
his soul flourished on Walter Pater and Aubrey '
Beardsley, he thought it a waste of time to walk
and swim. When, together with meat and
alcohol, he gave up these rather rarified dainties,
and lived, as it is fabulously reported, on milk
and honey, it seemed a waste of time to do
anything else. He could not be half-hearted.
Indeed, in that " tearing hunger to do things "
working, playing, reading, writing, publishing,
travelling, talking, socialism, politics — any one
thing seemed a waste of time, because mean-
while the rest of life's feast was kept waiting.
" What an incredibly lovely, superb world ! " he
exclaims. Lovely, superb — what are the precise
epithets which we should choose ? Again, " it
is fun going and making thousands of acquaint-
ances." It must be fun — when you are Rupert
Brooke. Frankly, voraciously, that is how he met
everything and everybody — from Mrs Grundy to
the Statue of Liberty.
The Statue of Liberty reminds me, vividly and
happily, of America. Three years ago, the fact
that one of the great American Universities had
awarded Brooke the first Rowland Memorial
Prize — " in recognition of an achievement of
marked distinction in the field of literature " —
passed, comparatively speaking, unnoticed in
England. But that award was not merely an
academic compliment. The value of a gift is in
the spirit of the giver, and this gift of love and
admiration was from the heart. The friend —
because none worthier to be sent was free — the
friend of Brooke's whose privilege it was to go
to New Haven formally to receive that prize on
Mrs Brooke's behalf, was absolutely unknown
there. His name — my name, as a matter of
fact — was, alas, no Sesame. In New York I
went, I remember, to call one day on a very
charming friend of Brooke's, to whom he wrote
some of his gayest letters. A graceful coloured
lift-girl inquired who the caller was. I told her.
Whereupon she exclaimed, with a smile all
radiant gold and ivory, " Gee whiz ! what a
name ! " This trifling and immodest digression
is only to show just how Mrs Brooke's ambassador
stood in the great eye of America. Now, in
Brooke's own words, " American hospitality
means that with the nice ones you can be at once
on happy and intimate terms." I wish I had
words to express how true that is — that heedful,
self-sacrificing, unbounded kindness. The nice
ones indeed were everywhere, for without ex-
ception they all knew, or knew of, Brooke.
Not that they knew no other contemporary
English poet, perhaps even a little better than
John Bull does himself — Mr Yeats, Mr Binyon,
Mr Masefield, Mr Gibson. But I had but to
whisper " R. B." — and the warmest welcome and
interest were mine. Now, in nineteen hundred
and sixteen that welcome for his sake was not
merely of literary significance. The ardour and
devotion of those English sonnets of his had
gone home, and the home of poetry is world- wide.
Never was a true friendship between two countries
and nations of such vital importance as that
between England and America to-day. Long
before the American nation actually " came
into " the war, many, many hearts there beat
truly with ours. Cousins cannot invariably see
eye to eye. But we cannot forget that generous
sympathy in the hour when England needed it.
Our steady insight and understanding, with as
slight an admixture as possible of a peculiar
quality of insularity which may be compre-
hensively described as " God-Almightiness," is
the least we can give in return.
I hope it will be no breach of confidence if I
quote a few words from a letter I received from
a friend in America only the other day, one who
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 37
knew Brooke's poetry not by hearsay, but by
heart. " I dutifully belong," she writes, " to
the English-speaking Unions, and am properly
interested in various schemes for making the
relations between England and America closer.
But I may say this to you — I don't want the
alliance to result in the least Americanizing of
England. I want England to remain ' like her
mother who died yesterday ' ; " (she is quoting
Edward Thomas, rare poet and rarest friend).
" We over here," she continues, " can't have all
the simple, lovely and solitary things of which
Englishmen write. It helps so much to be able
to think of them as they are in England." These
are the words of a devotee of England — such
devotees as poetry makes and keeps.
But such were the friends that Brooke himself
with his poetry, personality and happiness made
wherever he went. " Happy," indeed, is the re-
frain that runs through all his letters. And then,
at length, when on his way to the last great ad-
venture of all : "I have never," he writes, " I
have never been so pervasively happy in my
life." That is how he opened the door into one's
life, and came in. But behind all that we say or
do, behind even what we think, is the solitude
wherein dwells what we are : and to that solitude
he was no stranger, even though it was not what
38 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
called most frequently for expression. Because
each day was so great a tax, however welcome,
on mind and body, he sometimes longed for
O haven without wave or tide !
Silence, in which all songs have died !
Holy book, where hearts are still !
And home at length under the hill !
O mother quiet, breasts of peace,
Where love itself would faint and cease I
0 infinite deep I never knew,
1 would come back, come back to you,
Find you, as a pool unstirred,
Kneel down by you, and never a word,
Lay my head, and nothing said,
In your hands, ungarlanded ;
And a long watch you would keep ;
And I should sleep, and I should sleep !
So, again and again his thoughts in his poetry
turn towards death, only in appearance the
deepest sleep of all. But then, again, since
nothing in life could satisfy such a hunger and
aspiration for life, beyond mood and change he
longed for a peace " where sense is with knowing
one " : and, beyond even this bodiless com-
munion, for the peace that passes understanding :
Lost into God, as lights in light, we fly,
Grown one with will.
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 39
Simply because things as they are are not as
they should be, we take refuge at times from the
defeats and despairs of this mortal existence in
satire and scepticism, a passing doubt in man,
in goodness, in the heavenly power. So, too,
did he. He kept piling up the fuel for those
" flaming brains " of his ; took life at the flood.
When ashes succeeded the blaze and the tide
ran low and the mud-flats shimmered in the
mocking sunshine ; why, he could at least be
frank. Each in turn he accepted life's promises ;
when it broke some of them — as it sometimes
must in order to keep the others — he closely
examined the pieces, whatever the pang. One
promise, however, would never have failed him :
" There are only three' good things in this
world: one is to read, one is to write, the
other is to live poetry." The last is by far
the most difficult, and Mrs Grundy is not un-
charmed to discover that not all the poets
are masters of the art. But there it is : they
are his own deliberate words ; and he meant
what he said.
What, if he had lived, he would have done in
this world is a fascinating but an unanswerable
question. This only can be said : that he
would have gone on being his wonderful self.
Radium is inexhaustible. As we look back
40 RUPERT BROOKE AND THE
across the gulf of these last four years we see
him in vividest outline against the gloom.
Other poets, beloved of the gods, and not un-
endeared to humanity, have died young, as did
he. Indeed it may be that, However uncom-
promising the usages of time, every poet, ever}^
man in whom burns on a few coals of imagina-
tion, " dies young." But no other English poet
of his age has given up his life at a moment so
signal, so pregnant. This has isolated and set
Rupert Brooke apart. No single consciousness
can even so much as vaguely realise the sacrifice
of mind and hope and aspiration, of life and
promise, " lovely and of good report," which this
pitiless and abominable war has meant to
England and to the world. His sacrifice was
representative. The " incantation of his verse "
quickened " a new birth," his words were " sparks
What place in English literature the caprices
of time and taste will at length accord him
does not concern us. Let us in our thoughts be
as charitable as we can to our posterity, who will
have leisure for judgment, and can confer that
remembrance which fleeting humanity flatters in
the term " immortality."
I saw him beat the surges under him,
And ride upon their backs . . .
INTELLECTUAL IMAGINATION 41
His bold head
'Bove the contentious waves he kept, and oar'd
Himself with his good arms in lusty stroke
To the shore, that o'er his wave-worn basis bow'd
As stooping to relieve him. I not doubt
He came alive to land.
De la Mare, Walter John
Rupert Brooke and the
R4Z6 intellectual imagination
PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE
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UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO